Listen even when it’s difficult

Listen even when it’s difficult

Listening can be hard. There are typically many things vying for your attention while you try to focus on someone else, from the speaker to your own mental and emotional state and even the setting where you receiving the message. 

Here are some factors that make listening difficult at times and what we can do to help ourselves listen better.

Barrier 1: The Speaker

There are many ways that the speaker themselves can be a barrier in order to listen to them effectively. Their speech, dialect, or accent may be hard to follow. Also, the speed, or lack thereof, of verbal communication can be hard to comprehend. 

To tackle this part of the barrier, politely let the person know that you are having trouble following them and ask for any slight adjustments. I recently interviewed someone from the Northern US, where people have a tendency to talk at a very fast pace. People talk at a much slower pace here in the Southern US, and while I could understand him, it was becoming a bit taxing after a while. After a question was answered, I gave us a time check, affirmed their excitement for the role, and asked if they would mind slowing down just a bit for me.  The rest of the conversation went great as a result. 

The speaker’s physical appearance can be a distraction as well. Maybe, it’s the way they are dressed, something in their teeth, or perhaps something entirely inconsequential that’s calling our attention. 

If it’s an easy fix and appropriate to do so, you can help the person and yourself out by letting the speaker know. If it’s something that they can’t be fixed in the moment or perhaps just a personal hangup that you have, mentally acknowledge it and then put extra effort into focusing on what is being said. 

Barrier 2: You, the Listener

It’s been said that when you see a problem, that you need to first look in the mirror to make sure that the problem isn’t you.  Sometimes our barrier to listening is the messenger instead of the message itself. 

If you have an issue with someone or a personality difference that is causing a barrier in your ability to listen, then ultimately the responsibility falls on you in that moment, not the other person. Lean in your Emotional Intelligence skills to set aside personal differences in order to give yourself a good opportunity to listen and truly hear what the other persona has to say. 

Another way that you can be a barrier to yourself is by distractions that you bring along with you on a daily basis. Phones, smartwatches, and computers can all tug at your attention even if it’s just for a moment. Turn off notifications, or shut the device down entirely especially during critical conversations where you need to be at your highest level of listening ability and attention. 

Barrier 3: The Setting and Environment

Even when we are fully engaged with the person delivering the message, the setting and surroundings can be a distraction. Sometimes I find myself susceptible to environmental distractions when either A) The importance of the conversation is low while being in a very public setting with a lot going on. B) A disinteresting lecture in a very quiet setting. 

During a one-on-one, ask to move to a different location if possible when the importance of the message is high. This will not only help you be a better listener in the moment but will also show the other person that you value what they have to say. 

For those times where there is very little mental stimulation, create your own! Take notes, listen to what is not being said, ask questions if possible and mentally sort info to keep engagement high.

Understand the main factors that hinder your ability to listen to others at times. Mentally acknowledge them, adapt and overcome the barrier to keep your engagement and knowledge transfer with the other person.

Make a better tomorrow. 

Plan, monitor & assess your goals

Plan, monitor & assess your goals

I love when New Year rolls around. I’ve typically taken some time during the last month to think through how the previous year went both personally and professionally and I’ve set some goals (PTB 301) to kick off the new year right.  A goal without a plan or accountability is nothing more than a wish or dream. Today we’ll look at how to plan monitor and assess your goals so that you can turn your goal into reality. 

Embrace Accountability 

Without accountability, your goals fall victim to circumstances and excuses. in over 6 years at PTB, we’ve never missed a weekly show average because we truly feel accountable to deliver you leadership content on a regular basis. Without that accountability, the likelihood of late or missed shows would be significantly higher. 

How are you going to own your goals this year? Hold yourself accountable to reach your goal and include a few trusted others as accountability partners to help keep you on track. At the end of the year, I always take my wife out to a nice lunch, and I cover what my goals are for the next year. She’ll then check into seeing how things are going, and it gives us another topic of conversation to have throughout the year. 

I also keep my goals written up on my whiteboard so I see them every day. They only come down once they are done. Think of posting your goals somewhere in a space that you are in on a regular basis. I know of people that have them in their car, at their cube at work, and even their lock screen of their phone. 

Plan your time and check-ins

If you built your goals using the SMART format from last week, you’ve got some kind of timeframe that you want to complete your goal by.  Be intentional in planning out time and the path you are going to take to get to the finish line. Some goals may need a weekly check-in while others may need a monthly or quarterly check-in to see how you are progressing. 

Remember not to be too hard on yourself as you check in on your goal progress. Think progress over perfection. It’s ok to adjust your goal if life has thrown you a curveball during the year. 

Celebrate along the way

As you check in on your goal status, reflect back and celebrate the progress that you’ve made so far.  Sometimes in our drive to accomplish our goals, we forget our starting point and how much things have changed along the way. People are quick to adapt to a new normal! 

Celebrate with yourself. Celebrate with others. Acknowledge and appreciate the hard work that you’ve put in so far. 

Leverage technology

There are a ton of great apps out there that can help you track and monitor your goals. 

No doubt you have some type of technology around you on a daily basis, from smartphones to watches to all-out smart homes, leverage what’s around you to help you stay on track. 

Find inspiration in tough times

Sometimes you just hit a rut and things aren’t progressing as you wanted them to for a number of reasons. Take some time to find inspiration to help pick yourself up or to give you a new perspective on your goal and how to achieve it. Search online for groups around your shared interests, articles, and books that may help you get back in a positive direction. 

You’ve taken the time to plan out some great goals this year. You can do it! Hold yourself accountable, keep them top of mind, leverage all the resources around you, and celebrate that progress. You can accomplish some amazing things this year. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

How to set a goal that sticks

How to set a goal that sticks

Setting a goal is easy, but getting that goal that sticks can be an entirely different story. To help give yourself a better chance to reach your short and long-term goals, it’s important to set your goal in a way that is easy to follow, has tangible steps, and sets the time to get it done. It’s the ambiguity that often gets the best of our goals. 

Today we’ll follow the SMART format to set goals that are actionable and attainable. 


Your goal has to have a specific foundation to be built on. I am often critical of goals that are overly subjective and abstract (ex. I want to grow in my development) because you can’t hit something when you don’t even know you are shooting for it.

The specific subject can center around many things

  • A culminating event. ( I want to run the NY Marathon)
  • A time or efficiency (Do a task x% faster)
  • An achievement (accreditation,  an award, promotion)
  • An increase or decrease in number (weight, finances)

What specifically do you want to do or accomplish? Spell it out exactly to get a good start to the goal. 

M- Measurable

Now that you’ve got what you are shooting for in a goal, how are you going to measure its success? You need measurables in place to evaluate your progress and if you need to change or adapt things along the way.

In the NY marathon example, I need a qualifying time to get in. My measurable may be tracking my time as I try to hit my ultimate qualification time. In your professional career, it may be how many resumes and job applications you are going to complete a week. 

You should have some type of action attached to your goal and a way to measure the progress, if not, take time here to outline tangible ways to track your success. 

A- Achievable

You’ll want to take a realistic look to determine if the goal is reasonable enough to hit within your timeframe.  For your aspirational, long-term goals, build short-term goals that build and elevate you towards your ultimate goal. 

A stretch goal is perfectly fine to shoot for, just make sure it doesn’t stretch you so far that you break in the process. 

R- Relateable

Some goals you shouldn’t pursue! That’s not to say it’s a bad idea or a wrong endeavor to work towards. Maybe the timing is off. Perhaps you are already loaded up with other things. Sometimes a goal can take away from other important areas you need to master and win in first. 

Make sure that the goal or pursuit is timely, aligns with your current responsibilities and capabilities, and matches your personal values. Don’t waste your time on things that you shouldn’t be doing.  Your goal should contribute to your long-term aspirations in some way. 

T- Time-bound

No goal is complete without a time deadline to accomplish it. Set sometime around when you want to accomplish the task in order to stay motivated and focused on completing it. 

If you don’t hit your goal in the desired or set timeframe, it’s likely not the end of the world. Step back and assess why you didn’t make it and what you could do differently. Adjust, set a new goal, and get back at it. 

A few examples


  • I want to hit a 3:02 marathon time to qualify for the NY Marathon on Nov 3rd.
  • I want to lose 24lbs during the year and focus on 2lbs a month. 
  • I want to learn Morse Code and have the ability to pass the Morse Code interpretation test by June 30th. 


  • I want to earn a promotion in 18 months and take on 3 new responsibilities around operations and finance. 
  • I want to get a new job in 3 months. I’ll complete 4 applications a week and network with 5 new people a week. 
  • I want to earn my certification in my field in 12 months. I will join 2 study groups and the local chapter affiliation to help in my prep. 

Design goals that are clear, attainable, and have a set deadline to get it done. You’ll give your focus and motivation a boost while significantly raising the likelihood of meeting your goal. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

People over positions

People over positions

The talk of the great resignation is the hot topic these days in the business world. Some companies are working to get ahead of the exodus of talent from the organization, others are afraid to even broach the topic in fear of speaking it into existence and a small group just blames the workers for not wanting to work anymore. (EP 292, 4 Phrases to remove from your leadership talk)

The dynamic has shifted and people feel more empowered not to settle and are looking for a place that pays fairly, allows them to have a healthy personal life, and equips them to grow in their careers. 

I’ve led for years with the mindset of People Over Positions. As I teach the concept to other leaders, I always frame it up in terms of resources. With enough time, I can fill any role in any organization, but I only get one (your name here). If you knew that you only had one of a particular resource, wouldn’t you want to take care of and nurture it like your life depended on it?

The concept, while simple, certainly has been an Ah-ha moment for leaders as they think about how they currently treat and prioritize their people and key roles across the organization. Here are some tips on how you can live out the People over Positions concept with your team and build a highly efficient team and sticks around for the long term. 

Make the person’s personal time a priority

You’ve heard countless stories of people that have sacrificed large periods of their personal and family lives in order to get a job done. I was that person for a while, and it caused me to have a weird sense of a badge of honor and a chip on my shoulder like the company owed me something. I took realizing that I was out of balance and stepping up to difficult conversations at times to get back on track. 

Your team should never feel like they can’t have a life outside of work or have to sacrifice large personal goals in order to collect their paycheck. Some ways that you can make your team’s personal time include:

  • Be as accomodating as possible to time-off requests: Ensure that the person doesn’t feel guilt for taking the time.
  • Cover small investments like books and seminars. Could the person cover the cost of a $22 book? Likely, but the gesture is worth far more. 
  • Be authentically engaged in their personal hobbies, passions, and family adventures. Learn family members’ names, and take a genuine interest beyond, “How are you?” Open up your conversations with the personal aspects to show them it’s a priority for you.

Help them move on

Part of People over Positions is helping people move on to the next thing that they want to do. I’ve had leaders struggle a bit with this point in the past. “Why would I want to give up someone that’s so important to my team?” (We call that a Blocker in my world because they are blocking the talent pipeline behind them)

Everyone is where they are for a season. Eventually, you are going to move on from your role and so will each member of your team. Now imagine how that person feels when you are actively involved in their career aspirations. 

  • They feel cared for. It’s an active effort that shows you are caring for them on a personal level. The fun benefit here is that they begin to care for their teammates in a very personal way when they themselves feel cared for.
  • They are more effective than ever. As you invest in your person, that investment begins to pay off before they move on. Their larger sense of the business or the added context of an entirely different area makes them better in the role that they are in today. 
  • Your hiring costs go down. When a person feels cared for they are going o stick around longer. They are also going to shorten your time to fill open roles because they will be willing and ready to take on the new challenge. You also have an advantage of a person coming into the new role with a strong sense of context to have more of an immediate impact on their new work. 

Ways that you can help 

  • Support academic learning – from books to classes
  • Support time needed to learn and study. 
  • Give them stretch assignments
  • Provide them opportunities to explore curiosities and career journeys across the organization
  • Be a connector. Connect them to other key people in the company that can help propel their career
  • Help them prepare their successor

Model it yourself

In order to fully live out the People over Position concept, you’ve got to include yourself in that process as well. That means you’ve got to bring balance in your life and not have your job be your life. Certainly, it’s a part of your life, but it’s not healthy for it to be all-encompassing in your life. What would happen if the business folded or your position went away? Not only do you lose your income, but your sense of purpose and value also disappears in an instant. 

Show others that you are prioritizing your health, time away from work, and investing in yourself so that others know it’s ok and safe to do the same themselves. You can give them all the empowerment in the world, but you don’t live out what you talk about, then the person is much less likely to take healthy action. 

Unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) became a hot trend at forward-thinking companies and continues to be the norm in some industries and circles. What people found is that while the company offered unlimited PTO, people were actually taking less time off than other companies with a more traditional vacation policy. It’s the classic example of talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Be sure you are walking your talk. 

Keep it in context

People over Positions can be a game-changer in the mindset of how you and other leaders engage your people. While the approach puts a priority on care, it doesn’t mean you put your business at the bottom of the priority list. With this concept you still on occasion:

  • May ask a person to make a small sacrifice in time to help the team meet a critical goal. 
  • May need to connect in “off hours” on something that can not wait until the next business day. 
  • May ask them to do a task that they aren’t happy with. 

Absolutely keep your accountability high with this approach to your team. They will be more willing to step up when they know that you care for them. Don’t be afraid to reach out about asks from the above points, just be mindful not to overuse the asks, and that it’s an appropriate level of urgency to warrant the interaction. 

Care and invest in your people. Remember that you only get one of that unique individual for a set amount of time.  Your legacy will grow as others go out and model your influence, your business will become stronger and you’ll have a higher sense of purpose as a result. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

2021 Book Recommendations

2021 Book Recommendations

Today Zack and Mike share their 2021 book recommendations!

Zack’s Picks

Clarity in Crisis by Marc Polymeropoulos

“I really enjoyed Marc’s book. It’s an engaging read that follows his career in the CIA while pulling out leadership and team-building lessons that can be applied to every team, no matter the size or industry.” – ZH

Marc was a guest on show 288

Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell

“This is one of my favorite book recommendations for a new leader and a leader looking to raise their effectiveness. Lee shares a number of great tips and stories in order to care for your team and your customer.” -ZH

Lee was a guest on show 200

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff

“This book does a fantastic job of helping the reader experience what it was like to be close to the events that unfolded on 9/11. The book leans heavily into first-hand accounts from interviews that tell a powerful story of heroism, loss, luck, and trama. A powerful read that took me longer than usual to read. I found myself reading a bit and then reflecting on what the people in the interviews experienced.” – ZH

Mike’s Picks

Pivot by Jenny Blake

“Jenny does a great job a helping the reader put a plan in place to pivot to that next role that they want to be in. It’s not always realistic to say that you want to be the CEO fresh out of college. Instead, she helps the person realize what steps they need to take to get to their ultimate goal.” – MF

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

“I love all of Malcolm’s stuff from his books to his podcast. I like how Malcolm dives into what is behind a person’s success and what makes a person successful that we don’t initially think about.” -MF

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

” I love a good biography and have always been interested in Steve Jobs and what he was able to do as a leader. I really appreciated that the biography shows both the good and the bad behind Steve and lets the reader decide what their takeaway is. ” – MF

Why you need skin in the game

Why you need skin in the game

In order to be successful in something, you have to have something at stake, otherwise, what’s the point of the effort? Some may answer by saying that there isn’t a point. That’s the root of why many projects, endeavors, tasks, and jobs fail to be successful; no one is invested in its success or failure. 

The term skin in the game originates from Horse Derbys. Owners had their skin “horse” in the game. Everything was riding on how successful they were at the race. What is your level of risk in what you do or lead? 

Risk versus rewards

Some people think that having skin in the game means tying rewards or incentives to the goal or their performance.

Is it really?

Without risk, the person truly doesn’t have skin in the game. Let’s say an employee is offered a bonus if they hit their quarterly goal. Sure, they lose out on the bonus if they don’t make it, but their base pay is still the same. You will get some extra effort in an incentive program, but that alone will not buy in their full commitment. 

Having skin in the game means you are putting something at risk in order to see the project or goal through. It could be monetarily based, but it could also be reputation, honor, relational, or job-based. When a person puts these things on the line, they are fully bought in and committed to giving it their very best. 

It increases your credibility as a leader

If you and your peers were to put things that were important to you on the line for a work goal, and your boss didn’t, what would you think of them? Certainly, their credibility would take a hit, and your likelihood to follow them would suffer a setback. 

Trustworthiness and credibility are your two highest commodities as you lead others, especially if you are new in your role. I feel like these two things are always on the line to some degree when I am leading my team. This is partially what drives me so hard to advocate for them when they are not in the room, to clear hurdles to their efficiency, and to assist them where I can. Though they have no monetary value on the surface, trustworthiness and credibility is always my minimum skin in the game. 

When others see that you have skin in the game and they realize that you are looking out for their best interest, they will be much more likely to follow you and risk something themselves in order to see the goal through. 

The bigger your investment, the bigger your return

The more you put on the line, the more you are going to do to ensure it’s a success.  Think about new business owners, writers, artists, speakers. For them, everything is always on the line. If they don’t hustle to grow new business, they will go out of business. 

Your level of drive will always be tied to your level of skin in the game. When you are all chips in, you are likely going to push for excellence, look for new solutions, and innovate along the way to a level of success that meets or likely surpasses your expectations. 

Trust others with skin in the game

There is an automatic level of trust built-in with someone when you know that they have skin in the game. Whatever that motivation or risk may be for them, you know they won’t abandon you. Here are some ways to determine what the other party has invested or is at risk. 

  • Do they live out what they coach, teach, and say? Do they walk the talk?
  • Ask the person what they would do in your situation. They may give different counsel if they were the ones needing advice and help. 
  • For financial planners, ask what they have invested in. Don’t partner with them if they want to play with your money in an area that they wouldn’t put their own money into. 
  • Don’t put much weight in commentators on the internet that don’t use their real names. #1) They can pretend to be any kind of expert. #2) There is no risk on their part when using an anonymous screen name.  Did you ban my user account for trolling and misinformation? Guess what, I now back as Mortyrules12 instead of PickleRick887. 

What’s at stake for you in what you do? Why does success matter? What does it mean if you fail?  Understand your skin in the game, help others put things at risk, and together push past expectations. 

Make a better tomorrow.